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Avalon woman asks court to toss complaint over length of her ivy

AVALON— Is there a botanist in the courthouse?

Borough resident Elaine Scattergood, who has been ordered by officials to cut long vines on her house that double as a wildlife habitat, has filed a motion to dismiss what she calls a “silly complaint” made against her.

The borough in January charged Scattergood for “failure to remove overgrowth and vegetation” from her 30th Street house.

The plant in question is called Virginia creeper, a five-leafed ivy that’s native to the Eastern United States. Every fall, berries grow on the leaves and are eaten by mockingbirds, woodpeckers and blue jays as they migrate south.

Code enforcement says all vegetation in Avalon must be trimmed below nine inches in length.

But Scattergood, a local environmentalist, says the creeper that snakes along her porch and siding is part of a private wildlife habitat she maintains for birds and bees, and gives her property character. In the winter, the vines are barren, but vibrant leaves begin growing in warmer weather.

“I really think they’re stretching,” said Scattergood’s attorney Joseph Grassi before Monday’s hearing. “I’m still confused about what the complaint is.”

At the heart of the issue, which will go to trial if not dismissed, is whether the part of the borough’s code that limits vegetation height also applies to vines.

The code states that “weeds or plant growth” cannot exceed nine inches, but the rule does not apply to “cultivated flowers and gardens.” Grassi contends that Virginia creeper is the latter.

“Does this really apply to vines?” he asked, standing outside Avalon’s courthouse. “I don’t think that’s what the statute they’re citing really means. ... It governs how high brush and weeds can be.”

A judge on Monday adjourned the matter until July 15, giving the borough time to give a response to the motion to dismiss.

Frank Guaracini, Avalon’s municipal attorney, argued the nine-inch limit applies to Virginia creeper. The plant is sometimes mistaken for poison ivy, but is harmless to humans’ skin and appears on the borough’s approved list of dune vegetation.

If the case goes to trial, he said, a plant expert may be called to testify.

“It’s grown all over the side of her house,” he said. “In the borough of Avalon, that’s the rule. ... You may go somewhere else and it’s not a problem.”

When municipalities should try to regulate private yards is a question that goes beyond Avalon.

In Trenton, some lawmakers have sponsored legislation that would create a “private wildlife habitat certificate program” for homeowners who seek to maintain their lawns for birds and other species.

Under the bill, A1953, a person could register their property as wildlife habitat in accordance with standards set by the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.

Those registered would be entitled to defense against any lawsuits or fines for violating municipal ordinances surrounding property maintenance. And in highly developed, flood-prone shore towns, some environmentalists say landowners should make efforts to increase green spaces on their properties in favor of pavement.

“What people do on their yards matters,” said N.J. Audubon President Eric Stiles last month in support of the bill.

The legislation was reintroduced this session and no action has yet been taken.

Meanwhile, though, Scattergood hopes for a swift end to her case.

“There’s really no need for this,” she said. “I speak for the trees.”

Election 2019
Atlantic City primary battle generates big mail-in numbers

This year’s primary election in Atlantic County has already generated far more mail-in ballots than 2018’s primary, which included contested primaries for U.S. Senate and Congressional seats.

That’s in spite of few hotly contested primary races outside of those for Atlantic City’s City Council.

Deputy Atlantic County Clerk Mike Sommers said the clerk’s office mailed out 11,022 vote-by-mail ballots, and 3,128 had been returned to the office for voting by Friday afternoon.

Last year’s primary generated a countywide total of 1,499 mail-in votes, according to county records. The vast majority (1,322) were on the Democratic side.

“Legislation has increased the vote-by-mails by at least 70%,” said Sommers. “We expect them to come in Monday and Tuesday, right up to Thursday.”

Since last year’s general election, state law has required anyone who voted early or requested a mail-in ballot in 2016 to continue to get mail-in ballots sent to them, unless they opt out.

And mail-in ballots postmarked by election day must be accepted through end of day Thursday.

Atlantic City accounts for a third of those returned this year — about 1,000 — said Sommers.

There are 22 mostly Democrat candidates running for the right to run for six ward seats in the resort. The 4th Ward, where incumbent William “Speedy” Marsh is not running for re-election, has six Democrats and two Republicans vying for the primary win.

But overall participation in primary elections is extremely low compared to general elections, according to Ben Dworkin. He’s the director of Rowan University’s Institute for Politics and Civic Engagement.

“That is why organization matters, and therefore the party faithful who can rally the troops tend to win,” said Dworkin. The ability to get out the vote can make all the difference, he said, and small numbers of people voting can have an outsized influence.

In 2018, 23,000 people voted in the June primary in Atlantic County, compared to 96,000 in the general election.

“Primaries are really a party function in New Jersey,” said John Froonjian, interim executive director of Stockton University’s William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy.

New Jersey has a closed primary, he said, meaning only those who are members of a party can vote.

“You can declare your party affiliation right up to the last minute,” Froonjian said, at the polling place. “Sometimes people become members of the party for life almost by default.”

Party affiliation is a public record, so people need to consider if they are comfortable with that party designation, Froonjian said.

The new rules on mail-in ballots created a lot of confusion in last November’s general election. People who had gotten mail-in ballots ignored them, and went to the polls to cast votes only to be told they were on the mail-in list so they couldn’t vote by machine.

Instead, they filled out provisional votes by hand, which were counted only after election workers made sure the voter hadn’t returned the mail-in ballot.

Use of the paper mail-in ballots, which hit a high of almost 12,000 of 96,000 votes cast in Atlantic County last November, has been increasing since the state allowed anyone to request one for any reason staring in 2005.

In 2017, the last time there was another big City Council primary in Atlantic City, a total of 1,166 mail-in votes were cast countywide — 944 in Atlantic City and almost all on the Democratic side.

In addition to Atlantic City, there are also contested local races in Mullica Township, Folsom and Buena Vista Township.

Atlantic County Superintendent of Elections Maureen Bugdon said there are 151 voting districts in the county, each of which receives two voting machines. Her office is responsible for maintaining, checking and delivering the machines. The same number of machines go out for the primary as for general elections, she said.

Heavy-hitters of casino industry headline Atlantic City gaming conference

ATLANTIC CITY — The landscape of casino gaming is ever-changing and several titans of the industry will be in town next week to discuss all the hot-button issues during a two-day conference.

The 23rd annual East Coast Gaming Congress and NextGen Gaming Forum will take place June 12 and 13 at Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center. This year’s keynote speakers at Atlantic City’s only gaming conference are Gov. Phil Murphy and Bill Miller, the new president and CEO of the American Gaming Association.

Among the topics that are expected to generate significant discussion are the U.S. Department of Justice’s recent opinion on the Wire Act, the national impact of legalized sports betting, the evolution of e-sports and casino gaming expansion, the event’s organizers said.

Several high-ranking gaming executives are scheduled to participate in panel discussions, including: David Cordish, CEO and chairman of the Cordish Company; Mario Kontomerkos, CEO of Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment; George Papanier, CEO of Twin River; Thomas Reeg, CEO of Eldorado Resorts; Timothy Wilmott, CEO of Penn National Gaming; and Greg Carlin, CEO of Rush Street Gaming.

“The East Coast Gaming Congress is set up to be significantly different from other gaming conferences,” said Michael Pollock, co-founder of the conference and managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group. “It’s designed to bring in decision makers to speak to an audience who are decision makers in their own right.”

Murphy is returning to ECGC in 2019 after delivering the keynote address at last year’s conference.

“(The governor is) very interested in the industry, in general,” said Lloyd D. Levenson, co-founder of ECGC and CEO of Cooper Levenson LLC. “He’s interested in the area, not only just the Atlantic City gaming industry, but in South Jersey tourism. We’re excited that he thinks enough of the ECGC to come back and be our keynote speaker again.”

The 2018 ECGC coincided with the launch of legalized sports betting in New Jersey. Following his keynote speech last year, Murphy — who placed the first legal sports wager in New Jersey at Monmouth Park Racetrack on June 14 — went to Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa to place a bet.

Sports betting has provided Atlantic City casinos with a new source of revenue and created excitement in the resort. Statewide, more than $2 billion has been wagered on collegiate and professional sports in the year since Murphy signed legislation to tax and regulate the gaming amenity.

The ECGC will feature a panel with CEOs from some of the largest sports wagering providers.

“I would challenge any conference to match up with the session we have on sports wagering,” Levenson said.

Several of the panels will lend themselves to high-profile discussions, Levenson said, including the DOJ’s new interpretation of the Interstate Wire Act of 1961, which a federal court vacated Monday.

The most recent opinion of the Wire Act, released in January, suggested that the law applies to all forms of online gambling, including casino games, sports betting and lotteries, and is in direct contrast to a 2011 Justice Department opinion that the New Jersey Legislature relied on before legalizing internet wagering in 2013. Monday’s court opinion stated that the Wire Act only applies to sports betting.

The opinion indicated federal prosecutors could bring criminal charges against individuals or companies that offered online gaming services, even in states where the practice was legal.

“An opinion like this rattles our industry,” Levenson said. “Any kind of opinion — we’ll call it a negative opinion — coming out of the Department of Justice has to have an impact on any industry. And the gaming industry is no exception.”

The first day of ECGC will feature a panel on the future of e-sports, which many industry experts are anticipating will be the new wave of casino gaming because of its appeal to Millennials.

One of the 'Coolest Film Festivals in the World' begins Thursday on Long Beach Island

The Lighthouse International Film Festival on Long Beach Island tries this weekend to live up to the billing given to it last year by MovieMaker Magazine as one of the 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World.

The festival starts Thursday and runs through Sunday. The weekend will be packed with 143 feature-length films, documentaries, shorts and episodic content accompanied by networking events, said Christine Rooney, the festival’s managing director.

“We seek out the best films for our audience,” Rooney said. “We have had Oscar-nominated films. We have had films that have gone into theaters and that are on Netflix and On Demand.”

During its 11 years, the festival has been screening more films each time, and this year is no exception, Rooney said.

Every year, the films grow in prestige, and there will be more filmmakers, cast and crew — over 100 individuals — in attendance than ever before, Rooney said.

The festival has the goal of screening independent films that are thought-provoking, unique and address the issues of today, Rooney said.

Guy Nattiv, the director who won this year’s Oscar for Best Live Action Short, will be in attendance for the 6:30 p.m. Thursday screening of the festival’s opening night film, which will be his full-length feature, titled “Skin,” starring Jamie Bell and Vera Farmiga. The movie has been shown at the Toronto, Berlin, Germany and Tribeca, New York, film festivals.

“We are very fortunate this year that Netflix provided us with the film ‘American Factory,’ which is quite a coup for a festival,” Rooney said.

“American Factory,” a documentary, will be the festival’s closing film. The movie will be screened 4 p.m. Sunday. The film is about Midwest blue-collar workers. Aunt and nephew Julia and Jeff Reichert, co-director and producer respectively, will be in attendance.

Julia Reichert, a three-time Oscar nominee in the best documentary category, spent part of her youth living on a boat in Beach Haven. Jeff Reichert is a former Northfield resident.

“We provide a four-day cinematic experience for all our attendees. We have parties, breakfast with the filmmakers, panel discussions, Q&As. We bring in films from all over the world,” Rooney said.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon,” starring Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson, will be one of the festival’s centerpiece films. It will be screened at 7:30 p.m.

The Lighthouse International Film Festival is only the second festival to show the movie after its debut at South By Southwest in Austin Texas, and the co-directors are expected to be in attendance, Rooney said.

A movie that will receive its world premiere during the festival is a 29-minute documentary, titled “To Make a Long Story Short,” about the Ocean County-based party band known as Shorty Long & The Jersey Horns. It will be screened 9 p.m. Friday, followed by a concert by group at Bird and Betty’s, 529 Dock Road, Beach Haven.

It is unusual for film to be made about musicians who are known for neither their own original music nor for being a tribute act to a famous performer.

On St. Patrick’s Day last year, Sal DelGiudice, 54, of Beach Haven West in Stafford Township, saw Shorty Long & The Jersey Horns for the first time at Calloway’s Restaurant & Bar in the Staffordville section of Eagleswood Township.

Besides being a musician who still plays in a band, DelGiudice has a sister with cerebral palsy.

DelGiudice saw Rick “Shorty Long” Tisch singing and playing a keyboard even though he was born was a rare bone disease called Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a group of disorders that affect bone growth and density, resulting in Tisch’s short height. Tisch stands less than 3 feet tall and uses a wheelchair, but DelGiudice saw him leading the band despite these disadvantages.

DelGiudice said he understood immediately how special what he was witnessing was. He co-wrote, directed and produced the documentary on Tisch and his band.

Shorty Long & The Jersey Horns have existed for close to 20 years.

No one approached Tisch or the group to do a film on them previously. Tisch said he was blown away that someone would be interested in making a documentary on him and his band.

“I thought it was the coolest thing ever that someone wanted to make a documentary about us. I figured, “What the hell, if nothing else, I would have something to show my daughter,” said Tisch, 42, who is the father of a 6-year-old.

Tisch learned how to play a keyboard after it was given to him by his grandmother when he was age 5. He discovered he could hear a song on the radio and learn how to play it by ear. He played for senior citizens during his high school-age years. He joined his first band at 19, which eventually included John Kern, who plays bass and sings in Shorty Long.

Even with Tisch’s physical disability, he and his band play 200 shows a year, with 100 of them being between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

“We love doing it, and it pays the rent,” Tisch said. “In the summertime, especially when you live in Jersey, you take it while you can get it and thank God that that many people want to hire us to where we have to turn down clubs and parties and stuff now. We do as much as we physically can.”